Ms. Burggraf, tell us about your background: Where, when, and why did you learn German?
I learned German in part from my family and in part in school. I began learning German formally in sixth grade. I wanted to learn German because of my heritage and because it would give me a different perspective from everyone else, who at the time were learning French and Spanish.
Where, when, and why did you decide to become a German teacher?
I wanted to make a difference in schools, and my love of German worked well into accomplishing this goal. I studied education in college and have my certificate.
What is the most challenging part in teaching German? What is the most rewarding?
The most challenging part about teaching German is helping kids to get excited about an academic subject. There’s a lot to love and have fun with in a language, but some come in with a preconception that it will be boring. I do my best to dispel this belief.
Is there anything like a “special profile” to those students who take learn German?
They’re usually the most academically motivated students at school, and they really want to learn a language, not just pass a class and complete a requirement. They can be eccentric and silly, but they are almost always some of the best students in the school.
Where did/do you get support, guidance as a yet relatively inexperienced German teacher?
I get a lot of support and guidance from my German teaching colleagues. They observe my classes and give me advice, strategies and solutions. In turn, I am able to watch their classes and learn from what they do.
In your opinion: What are the prospects for German as a foreign language in the US?
This is a hard one to answer. In a program that supports students and has tangible goals outside of just learning the language (i.e. a program that makes the language a social event, or a study abroad opportunity), and keeps the bigger picture in mind, German will do well. It is important to note that German offers the most diverse opportunities and career options, and can serve as the point of differentiation for employers. It is a rarer skill than Spanish or French, and it is more tied to global business and economics in some ways. Students should understand that even though German is not widely spoken, the people who do speak it have a lot of influence. If students feel like they’re in a special club just for them, where they can take it beyond the classroom in ways they can see and work toward, and understand the very far reaching consequences of learning a language, they will continue taking it. However, the other piece to this is administrators and schools that see no value in German. This is often the harder one to overcome, and one administrator with a negative opinion of having a German program at all will spell death to the program.
The interview was conducted by Christoph Veldhues and Olga Liamkina.